Before coming to Boulder to be the head football coach at Colorado 22 months ago, Karl Dorrell had not worked in college football in nearly six years.
A lot has changed since his one-year stint with Vanderbilt in 2014 and his run as head coach at UCLA from 2003-07.
Back then, recruiting was focused on high school players, as well as a few junior college prospects. To get them, a coach had to sell them on the program and perhaps the academic opportunities.
Now, Dorrell, his staff and coaches around the country have to navigate a recruiting world that includes the NCAA transfer portal, as well as new legislation that allows student-athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL).
On Wednesday, Rivals.com reported that 865 scholarship players in the Football Bowl Subdivision have put their names in the portal since Aug. 1. Of those, 28 have withdrawn their name, but that leaves 837 still in the portal. Only 222 — about 26% — had found a new school.
According to Rivals, about 2,500 players — scholarship and non-scholarship — from lower levels (FCS, Division II and Division III) have put their names in the transfer portal since Aug. 1.
Many of the players choosing to transfer are doing so for a better opportunity to play, but some are also looking for better opportunities to cash in on NIL deals.
“It’s challenging because NIL has become in a short period of time, a big, big deal,” Dorrell said. “And it’s a factor in decisions now. So that’s the other part. Just some challenging times ahead in college athletics, for sure.”
Among the challenges is that NIL opportunities and legislation are not consistent across the country.
BYU, for example, has an endorsement deal with Built Bar and that includes separate NIL agreements with every member of the team. At Miami, scholarship players were offered a $500 monthly contract to a local MMA gym.
The NCAA is reportedly looking into the BYU and Miami deals, but they are an example of the current state of NIL. When the NCAA announced last summer that athletes could profit from their NIL, it didn’t produce a blanket policy. Instead, the NCAA left it up to each state to come up with its own laws.
“All the laws are different on what you can do and can’t do,” Dorrell said. “So the regulation part was always going to be the challenge from the very beginning.”
Per Colorado state law, CU and other schools in the state can’t help their athletes find NIL deals. In other states, the schools can do that — and that can create a major disadvantage to the Buffs in recruiting.
“The high school parents and students have quickly adapted to the landscape,” Dorrell said. “They are asking those questions about what are the opportunities for my son or daughter? What can you provide from your institution, in terms of helping that process? Even though it didn’t affect them directly when his whole thing started, now six months later, they’re all in it.”
While some high school and transfer players seek NIL opportunities, Dorrell hopes the NCAA will at some point come up with a set of rules for all schools to follow.
“There’s definitely some things that need to be re-thought in this process,” he said. “And, hopefully, that will get some direction on that shortly.”
Until then, the challenge for Dorrell and CU is to be creative in what they can do at this time. CU has been active in creating graphics and producing content that could be used by players to market themselves, but that’s just a start.
“We have to maximize what we can do and that’s working within the guidelines of this university,” Dorrell said. “If we don’t do something progressively, and we kind of don’t put a lot of effort into staying with the current trends, then we’ll be behind the eight-ball a little bit.
“There are guys, including our own guys, they want opportunities, right? And certain programs have the ability to do more than others, so it’s challenging. We’re going to do what we can for what our resources are here, but we can’t sit and ignore and think that, ‘Oh, that’s just wrong’ and ‘We’re not gonna get involved in that.’ We’ll be what we are right now for a very long period of time if we think that way. We’re going to need to be proactive, we’re going to need to stay in the game and put some skin in the game about understanding this is the new process of college athletics.”
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